iPhone and iPad

Are Apple’s Free EarPods Really That Bad?

Dan Helyer Updated 06-04-2020

If you misplace your best headphones, you might need to turn to Apple’s free EarPods for listening to music instead. Most of us have a few pairs lying around the house, so it isn’t necessarily a big deal if these go missing as well.


The problem is that Apple’s headphones suck. Or at least, that’s what their reputation would have you believe.

We don’t think that’s an entirely fair analysis. So in this review, we’ll discuss what’s good and bad about Apple’s earbuds and build a case for why they might be worth using after all.

An Overview of Apple’s EarPods

Apple EarPods plugged into Lightning port on iPhone
Image Credit: Jessica Lewis/Pexels

Perhaps the best aspect of Apple’s EarPods is that you get a free set with any iPhone or iPod you buy. Back in the day, Apple used to give these out with new iPads as well, though that isn’t the case anymore.

In 2012, Apple revised the earphone design, making them more ergonomic and comfortable. Since removing the headphone jack from iPhones, Apple also released a Lightning-connector version of the EarPods. As a result, this does mean you need an adapter to use those EarPods with other devices.


Apple’s EarPods used to come in a hard case for safe storage. But now you only get some disposable cardboard packaging. The EarPods are also equipped with a remote for volume control, phone calls, Siri, and more.

Your EarPods are covered by Apple’s standard warranty. If you have any problems with them that aren’t your fault, Apple should replace the EarPods free of charge for as long as the warranty lasts.

Apple EarPods Sound Quality

Woman listening to Apple EarPods looking out a window
Image Credit: Feliphe Schiarolli/Unsplash

If you haven’t used Apple’s EarPods in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised to find the sound quality on them is far better than it once was. Apple’s older headphones had pretty dire sound quality. But Apple changed the internal drivers in the 2012 redesign, bringing vast improvements.


The treble is surprisingly punchy. There’s an unexpected richness to the bass that doesn’t overpower the sound. And the overall tone compared to Apple’s older EarPods is actually pretty good.

Unfortunately, the mid-range is weak. This is a problem that’s exacerbated by the fact that EarPods don’t employ any passive sound isolation. There aren’t silicon tips to create a tight seal in your ear, as you find with the AirPods Pro. This means the sounds around you wash out any clarity from the midrange.

Apple’s EarPods are also leaky. Anyone near you will hear a lot of noise coming out of your EarPods as you listen to music. They thus aren’t ideal for libraries and other quiet environments.

Despite this design flaw, the EarPods hold up well when listening to a variety of musical styles. Apple doesn’t design its products for one target market, so it makes sense that Apple EarPods should sound good with a range of musical genres. That said, for a standalone price of $29, it’s not worth buying a set of EarPods for the sound quality alone.


Apple EarPods Comfort and Design

EarPods hanging upside down in front of black background
Image Credit: Mateo Abrahan/Unsplash

Apple designed the EarPods to sit loosely in your ears, rather than forming a seal for a tighter fit. The smooth plastic design is largely inoffensive—they’re not uncomfortable. But if you’re used to sound-isolating silicon buds, they tend to lack the snug fit that you might like.

Like the sound quality, the form of these newer EarPods is a massive improvement over the previous design.

A particularly good aspect about the new design is that they don’t get caught on your ear if you yank them out suddenly. The use of anti-tangle rubber is also a nice touch. It certainly helps, but you’ll still spend time untangling them every now and then.


Of course, to ditch wires altogether, you should look at buying Apple’s AirPods or AirPods Pro Apple AirPods vs. AirPods Pro: Which Is Right for You? Should you buy the base AirPods or opt for Apple's premium AirPods Pro? We compare them to help you decide. Read More . But that’s a totally different ballgame.

One problem with the design is that EarPods move around a lot. They slip and twist in your ear, negatively affecting the sound quality. They also fall out when you move too much.

Apple’s EarPods are particularly bad for running, cycling, and other high-energy activities because you constantly need to put them back in your ears.

Apple EarPods Durability and Build Quality

EarPods plugged in to iPhone on a white surface
Image Credit: Plush Design Studio/Pexels

Apple’s old headphones were known for their poor build quality, and EarPods do little to buck the trend. They still feel flimsy and the materials used are quite soft. At the points where the cable joins the earbuds and connector, you’re likely to experience loose connections.

There’s a lot of flex in the plastic used for the remote control. Once this breaks, there’s nothing to protect the wire within. It’s hardly surprising that EarPods have maintained their reputation for dying suddenly. It’s probably what you should expect from free headphones, but as we already pointed out, Apple prices them at $29.

One way you can mitigate damage is by storing them properly. Look into getting a third-party pouch or case to keep your EarPods in. If that doesn’t feel like enough, take a look at our advice for protecting your headphones Here's Why Your Headphones Keep Breaking (And What You Can Do) How long do your headphones last? If they're breaking too quickly, here's why and what you can do to prolong their lifespan. Read More , much of which applies to EarPods as well.

Should your EarPods break, Apple covers them under the same AppleCare warranty as everything else. That warranty includes the Lightning cable, power adapter, and the device itself. If you bought your EarPods standalone, they still get a year of coverage.

The warranty is only for manufacturer defects, rather than accidental damage. But a Genius bar appointment costs nothing, and Apple might surprise you with what it considers a manufacturer defect.

Are Apple’s EarPods Worth the Price?

EarPods lying next to iPhone with colorful background
Image Credit: priyash vasava/Unsplash

For free, Apple’s EarPods represent excellent value for money. But if you’re thinking about shelling out $29 for a new pair, there are better alternatives available to you.

If you want a cheap pair of earphones and you’re not worried about the best sound quality, you can spend less and get more for your money elsewhere. Find some cheap earphones that use silicon tips for better noise isolation instead. Just make sure you can use them with your iPhone if you have a newer model without a headphone jack.

If you want to spend a little more on high-quality earphones, take a look at this list of the best Lightning connector earphones The 6 Best Wired iPhone Headphones With Lightning Cable Don't want to use Bluetooth headphones on your modern iPhone? Here are the best Lightning headphones you can use instead. Read More available. They cost more than Apple’s EarPods, but you get much better sound quality and isolation.

Alternatively, head to a local headphone shop and speak to the staff. They should ask about your use, your budget, what sort of music you listen to, and even offer you a few different pairs to try out.

Extra Features on Apple’s EarPods

EarPods sound okay, but they won’t knock your socks off. They’re distinctly inoffensive. Apple’s design is flawed in terms of ambient noise and sound leakage with the build quality leaving a lot to be desired. But they’re good enough for everyday use.

One particularly useful feature of Apple’s EarPods is the versatility you get from the remote. With these three buttons, you can control the volume, play and pause music, skip tracks, and even rewind music. Take a look at all the cool tricks you can do with your Apple EarPods 4 Nifty Things Your Apple EarPods Headphones Can Do The Apple EarPods that come with your iPhone actually have a lot of use. Here's everything you can do with your iPhone headphones. Read More .

Related topics: Buying Tips, Headphones, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mobile Accessory.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Tonald
    April 15, 2019 at 3:08 am

    Most horribly designed piece of work by apple to date. We are going on 10 years and they are still supplying these pieces of garbage. They catch on your clothes and fall out of your ears. They are bad to put it simply.

  2. Dan W
    May 29, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    I'm in the same camp as Robert In SF -- send me your unwanted Ear Pods! Silicone earbuds don't work for me -- my ear canals get insanely itchy after an hour. I have smaller ear canal openings and most earbuds make my ears sore after a short while regardless of the material. And I don't like being sealed off from the world, especially when walking around or at work -- I need to be able to hear what's going on around me. I've found that the Apple Ear Pods stay in my ear really well and don't make my ears sore, even wearing them all day. They don't fall out as long as the cable doesn't get yanked. Apple seems to have struck the right balance with their hard plastic design and a universal fit. I purchased a pair of hifi Etymotic earbuds a few years ago, and I think the Earpods have a better response. I've tried other wireless and wired earphones and I always go back to the EarPods. Also, I've tried a few other wired and wireless earphones, and it's hard to find one that has a good enough quality microphone, and none as far as I know have remote functionality.

    • Alex
      September 13, 2017 at 1:29 am

      They are total crap. Don't stay in my ears just sitting. Nothing on my SE can get the volume to above a whisper.

  3. John
    March 27, 2017 at 2:51 am

    iPads do not come with earpods, they only come with the adapter and lightning to usb cable.

  4. Derek Walsh
    August 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    I don't use Apple earphones myself, but from my experiences on public transport, they appear to be inordinately leaky.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 9, 2016 at 1:37 am

      I'd agree with this assessment, but isn't this just a trait of all non-sealed earphones?

      I tested a pair of Bluetooth noise cancelling over-ear headphones recently, and they were incredibly leaky too...

      • Derek Walsh
        August 9, 2016 at 9:23 am

        Could be. Perhaps it just seems to be an issue with Apple earphones because they're so common.

        • Ryan Williams
          February 20, 2017 at 12:06 pm

          Are you guys sure those are EarPods? Being leaky is something I'm conscious of and want to avoid, and even at relatively high volumes I can't hear much of anything when I do the old 'play music and gently press the bud against my arm' test — or when they're dangling in the air.

          The old EarBuds were definitely leaky though.

        • Tim Brookes
          February 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

          Yeah they're leaky alright. They never really "seal" as they're not that fitted, so the earbud-against-the-arm test isn't really an accurate test. I guess it also depends on what you listen to. Punchy electronic beats are very noticeable, for example.

  5. Destiny
    August 7, 2016 at 3:30 am

    I am not sure we get a headphone when we purchase an iPad.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 9, 2016 at 1:32 am

      Is that so? I can't remember as it's been a while since I got my iPad, but I could have sworn I got a pair. Still wondering how I managed to get so many pairs...

      • Ryan Williams
        February 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm

        Can confirm you don't get them with any iPads since the Air 2, not sure about previous models.

        • Tim Brookes
          February 21, 2017 at 12:55 am

          Thanks for letting me know... not sure how I've amassed so many pairs over the years.

  6. Anonymous
    August 6, 2016 at 12:27 am

    If you want ear buds just to hear stuff, you can pick up a pair off of ebay for a buck or less plus free shipping.

  7. Anonymous
    August 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    If you just want ear plugs to listen to stuff, I would suggest checking out ebay. You can get a basic pair for a buck or less and free shipping. Probably the same as the 10$ sets you get at a box store.

  8. Robert in SF
    August 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    If anyone doesn't want their earpods, from their new iDevice, I will take them off their hands.
    I can't stand the in-ear headsets that have the silicone/rubber pads that tend to seal off you canal.

    I mostly listen to audiobooks and podcasts, an occasionally a movie or TV show, and just prefer the fit and feel of the Earpods since the sound quality is not paramount for those types of media.

    Let me know if you want to donate your earpods, and we'll connect. :) I'll take them off your hands, no charge!


    • Tim Brookes
      August 9, 2016 at 1:34 am

      Hey Robert,

      I hear the Sennheiser MX 365 are pretty good for those who prefer the traditional style headphone that don't seal your ear canal shut: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005920DVA/